Ad Astra Dir: James Gray (2019) (USA)

Ad Astra   

アド・アストラAdo Asutora

Release Date: September 18th, 2020

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: James Gray

Writer: James Gray, Ethan Gross (Screenplay),

Starring: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland, Liv Tyler, Kimmy Shields, John Finn, LisaGay Hamilton, Bobby Nish, Sean Blakemore, Kimberly Elise,

Website IMDB

Following on from his sure-footed performance as a cocksure stunt-double in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, Brad Pitt takes the lead in another of 2019’s biggest films but dials down the flashiness to portray an ace astronaut who must confront a hostile environment and emotional states as he goes to the far edge of the Solar System in search of his father to stop a civilisation-ending disaster.

Pitt gives an understated performance as Major Roy McBride, a skilled but buttoned-up military man famous for having a pulse that never goes above 80 bpm.

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Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood Dir: Quentin Tarantino (2019) (USA)

Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Film Poster

Release Date: August 14th, 2019 (UK)

Duration: 161 mins.

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino (Screenplay)

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley,

Website IMDB

Quentin Tarantino is, without a doubt, one of Hollywood’s best movie makers. He has cemented his place by making violent cinematic spectacles that are riffs on genre conventions replete with references and re-purposed iconic imagery from older genre films to synthesise entertaining experiences. The style is often the substance and it often feels like being in a closed world as thinly sketched characters act out their tales surrounded by callbacks to older entertainment. Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood feels like his most mature film to date because it is more of an open world. It speaks to more than just narrow sets of film fans as it relies upon and subverts the shared cultural memory of a wider audience who grew up with 50s and 60s Americana because the film is a melancholy love letter to a lost age in Hollywood where the transition from the fading allure of westerns to the glamorous swinging 60s was about to be knocked off course by the grisly fate of Sharon Tate, something that signalled the end of an era of innocence.

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12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave  12 Years a Slave Film Poster

Running Time: 106 mins.

Release Date: February o8th, 2014

Director: Steve McQueen

Writer: John Ridley (Screenplay), Solomon Northup (Original Book)

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard

12 Years a Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, one of many free blacks kidnapped and forced into slavery and one of the few to escape back to freedom. He soon turned his exploits into a book and stage play which abolitionists in the north of America used to help bolster their cause against slavery. Solomon’s story fell into obscurity after the American civil war but was discovered by Bianca Stigter, the wife of British Turner Prize winning artist of Steve McQueen who was seeking to make a film about slavery but struggling to find a narrative. McQueen is a man who has successfully made the leap from art to film with his first two features Hunger (2008) and Shame (2012) and now the critically acclaimed 12 Years a Slave which is an incredible adaptation of an incredible story.

12 Years a Slave Solomon Freeman in New York

Saratoga Springs, New York, 1841. Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man. He earns a living as a skilled carpenter and violinist and resides in a comfortable house with his wife and two children. In New York he is relatively safe from slavery which is the biggest and most commerically important industry in the world and is generally respected by his neighbours. Two musicians invite Solomon on a two-week tour as a musician but behind the smiles are ruthless kidnappers who drug Solomon and sell him into slavery. He is beaten repeatedly and given the name Platt before being resold to a plantation owner named Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Solomon earns the respect of Ford but the ire of the overseer Tibeats (Dano) who threatens his life. Ford decides to resell Solomon to a slave-breaker named Edwin Epps (Fassbender) to avoid any bloodshed but Solomon is far from safe from this vicious drunk who exercises his reign of terror on his slaves and Solomon’s years of captivity become even more brutal and dangerous.

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World War Z

Genki World War Z Review Header

World War Z                                                World War Z Film Poster

Release Date:  June 21st 2012 (UK)

Running Time: 116 mins.

Director: Marc Foster

Writer:  Max Brooks (Original Novel), J Michael Straczynski (Original Screenplay), Matthew Michael Carnahan (First Rewrite), Drew Goddard (Second Rewrite)

Starring: Brad Pitt, James Badge Dale, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Matthew Fox, David Morse, David Andrews, Elyes Gabel, Fana Mokoena, Peter Capaldi, Elyes Gabel, Ruth Negga

World War Z has been on my radar for a long time. In 2010 I read the novel and liked it, in 2011 I posted a video of location shooting in Glasgow  and in 2012 I posted about the film’s trailer. It is 2013 and it has finally hit UK cinema screens and I watched it and quite enjoyed it.

Genki World War Z Film Review Gerry Lane( Brad Pitt) and Karin Lane (Mireille Enos)

Gerry Lane (Pitt) is a former U.N. investigator who quit his job working in dangerous places like Liberia and Sri Lanka to be with his wife Karin (Enos) and their two daughters in Philadelphia.

When the family get caught up in a zombie attack they make their way north to New York where they witness the spreading chaos, death and destruction. The east coast of America looks like a war-zone and they only escape thanks to Gerry’s old boss, Thierry Umutoni (Mokoena), the under-secretary of the U.N. who gets them on board the Argus, a U.S. Navy ship which leads a task-force picking up people who can make a difference in a war against zombies.

Gerry Lane and his family are only guaranteed a place on the ship if he joins a team searching for the source of the outbreak and so he races across the world to locations such as South Korea, Israel and Wales to find answers.

I went into this film with an open mind. It was clearly not going to be like the book and it has been well-reported about how the film went through a prolonged development process due to numerous rewrites of the script which was not even finished when filming started. You can tell from the rather perfunctory plot with dumb logic, the massively different changes in tone and the simplistic ending which feels tacked on. That written, whatever criticisms of the script are lost in the fun of this tight little action thriller.

The film’s plot is simple. It starts with happy Hollywood family scenes’ showing Brad Pitt being the ideal house-husband (he can cook, be loving and look sexy!)

Genki-World-War-Z-Gerry-(Brad-Pitt)-the-Domestic-God

And then normality gets rocked off its axis as a zombie apocalypse takes a bite out of life. Said apocalypse is light on gore but still full of action and thrills as the handsome and reliable Pitt travels the world in order to save the day. He does so with some random observations (done in slow-motion and flashback for the audience) and huge leaps of faith that only work in Hollywood films.

The structure of the story is totally different from the book which was an ensemble piece showing the apocalypse from different viewpoints in different nations with some satire thrown in. I still miss that multi-narrative aspect but having a central protagonist to follow works in the film’s favour since it creates a solid arc for the audience to follow throughout a story where action scenes dominate and horror shambles far behind.

The film feels like a cross between 28 Days Later with its fast-zombies and music and Resident Evil 6 with its action sequences where Gerry and a bunch of marines travel from one level to the next expending lots of ammo with some stealth bits where they have to avoid the zombies in tight and dark corridors. It has a few jump-scares but it does not build an atmosphere of dread. Night of the Living Dead, this is not but it does present the spectacle of a zombie apocalypse very well as the most effective zombie action sequences happen during the daytime with huge crowds of zed-heads.

Genki World War Z  Review Israel Chase Genki World War Z Film Review Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt)

What these sequences get right is the sense of panic and chaos felt in the headlong rush to get away from a stampede of zombies and the disorientation of being engulfed by people. There are many overhead shots and long shots which show lots of people running and it is pretty staggering to watch. Then there will be panicked close-ups as characters swim amidst the moving bodies caught on hand-held camera and it gets pretty exhausting. Movement is life, Gerry says at points, and the chaos movement can create can be pretty stomach churning.

The Jerusalem section has an impressively staged set-piece where Pitt has to flee an onslaught of zombies with a cadre of Israeli soldiers and it is at this moment where it is tensest because you get a sense of what it would be like to be there. You cannot tell who is who or if they are infected. It was bloody disorientating to see it and one could get a sense of how impossible it would be to maintain control.

Genki-World-War-Z-Gerry-(Brad-Pitt)-Runs-Away-From-the-Crowd

The 3D helped to deliver these feelings with zombies and object hurtling at the screen but it was the more quiet moments I liked such as the cell/crematorium in Camp Humphreys where ash floats around.

Like the plot, the characters are uncomplicated and maybe a touch bland. Pitt fits in with the proceedings well, looking confident and providing a decent protagonist one would want to follow. It was down to supporting characters like James Badge-Dale’s wry soldier and David Morse’s mad-prophet CIA agent to provide some interesting flavours.

Overall I’d say this is a fun action movie and a decent zombie film. It is not the scariest or most original zombie film by any stretch but an enjoyable way to pass the time.

3.5/5

Apparently it did so well it’s getting a sequel. Sign me up for a viewing.

World War Z Trailer

World War Z                                           World War Z Poster

Release Date:  21st June 2012 (US)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Marc Foster

Writer:  Max Brooks (Original Novel), J Michael Straczynski (Original Screenplay), Matthew Michael Carnahan (First Rewrite), Drew Goddard (Second Rewrite)

Starring: Brad Pitt, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox, David Morse, Bryan Cranston, Elyes Gabel, Mireille Enos,

The trailer for zombie apocalypse film World War Z has been released and what once had the potential to be an awesome zombie film looks to have become a rather generic zed-head shooter.

A U.N. employee (Pitt) races across the world and tries to stop the spread of the zombie epidemic.

Despite my initial, albeit subdued, enthusiasm for World War Z that I displayed when I first posted a video of location shooting in Glasgow my feeling for the movie adaptation of World War Z was that it would change. The story was an original take on the zombie genre and after reading the novel I understood that the challenge for the writers would be in shaping the fractured narrative of the book into a film. The book was structured as a U.N. report which corralled different sources together, creating a global perspective on the zombie pandemic. This was unique and while some of the sources skirted along the lines of stereotype it was still visceral stuff to read. The film has shrunk it done to follow one person in fewer locations which is… boring.

Adapting it for the big screen must have been tough and the number of writers, most high-profile, speaks volumes about the difficulty of the task. It started with J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) before the writing job was handed to Matthew Michael Carnahan (Lions for Lambs, State of Play, The Kingdom) before his rewrite was handed to Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods). At one point, Damon Lindelhof, one of the writers of Lost and the man who turned in a lacklustre re-write of the script for Prometheus, was involved. I can see the novel working better as a TV series than a movie lasting 90 minutes.

That said the trailer does have some thrilling moments. With the running zombies (think of the infected from 28 Days Later), there are plenty of chases that look like they have been well shot. That coupled with all of the crowd scenes with zombies surging around capture the terror that mobs/crowds hold, adds a little frisson to the action. The sight of those zombies climbing up the large wall was pretty gut-churning.

The film is directed by Marc Foster who directed Quantum of Solace and Monsters Ball. Quantum of Solace was okay. While the script for that film was pretty dull, the action was visually satisfying, highly kinetic and well done. The cast is interesting as it includes mega star Brad Pitt, Bryan Cranston (Drive) and some great TV names like like James Badge Dale (Shame, Rubicon) and Matthew Fox (Lost, Speed Racer). Still… I have become indifferent to the film thanks to the changes in the story.